Although there were no comparable studies of in-service teachers
in the same state or other states in the region, there was a comparative
group of preservice science teachers who had attempted all three
measures utilized in this study within a five-year window of data
collection for this study. In comparing the performance of in-service
AP science teachers and preservice science teachers in the same state,
we see consistent measures in the acceptance of evolution, with
preservice teachers in the state demonstrating an average score of
70.90/100 points on the MATE compared to the 68.47/100 of the
AP teachers (Glaze et al., 2015). At the same time, we see what could
be the impact of greater training and experience in the AP teacher
group in terms of content, as the reported content scores in the preservice sample demonstrated an average score of 37.63% (Glaze et al.,
2015) compared to the 52.72% of the AP teachers in this study.
Conversely, the preservice science teacher sample demonstrated a
greater understanding of NOS, with an average score of 65.45/100
points compared to 56.49/100 points in the AP teacher sample.
It has been stated that “antievolution is one of the greatest challenges for biology education” (Nehm & Schonfeld, 2007), especially in light of the role evolution plays as the unifying theory in
biological sciences. Teachers in many ways represent the front lines
in the battle for scientific literacy and trust in science. While a percentage of the population goes on to higher-education experiences,
the other portion of the population closes the chapter of their formal education training at or before graduation from high school. As
such, many in the population receive their only formal experiences
with science during their grade school coursework.
In this study, we sought to determine whether AP Biology teachers
have higher overall acceptance of evolution, understandings of evolution, and understandings of NOS than other science teachers. In comparing results from this study with those of other studies in the United
States and one preservice study in the same state, the answer to that
question is “no,” AP teachers in this sample do not have higher scores
on evolution-related variables than other science teachers. Those variables include acceptance of evolution, understanding of NOS, and evolution content knowledge, factors with demonstrated patterns of
influence upon one another and upon teacher choice of what, and
whether, to teach evolution in the classrooms (Rutledge & Warden,
2000; Goldston & Kyzer, 2009). AP teachers demonstrated levels for
each of those areas that are in keeping with existing studies among
other teachers, which include moderate to high acceptance, low content knowledge, and low understanding of NOS (Rutledge & Warden,
2000; Korte, 2003; Trani, 2004; Glaze et al., 2015).
Our results add to an unfolding pattern among biology teachers
with respect to understanding evolution, misconceptions about
evolution concepts, and acceptance of evolution. A great deal of
focus in university programs has been placed on increasing content
background and practical experiences in science as a driver for
improved science content teaching. However, we “can’t assume that
biology teachers with extensive background in biology have an
accurate working knowledge of evolution, natural selection, or
the nature of science” (Nehm & Schonfeld, 2007, p. 716). In fact,
research indicates that science teachers across grade levels hold mis-
conceptions and misunderstandings that are not being addressed in
their preparatory experiences (Nehm & Reilly, 2007; Nehm &
Schonfeld, 2007; Glaze & Kyzer, 2009). It is well known that com-
mon misconceptions and misunderstandings influence teaching and
learning of science and can result in self-perpetuation of the very
problem we are hoping to solve (McComas, 2003). As such, there
is a need at all grade levels to address misconceptions, strengthen
understandings of science and how scientific knowledge is gener-
ated, and target areas of science viewed publicly as “controversial.”
The responsibility for overcoming obstacles to teaching and
learning of evolution falls squarely on the shoulders of professors
in teacher education, who are often a single point of contact for science teachers when it comes to the pedagogical aspects of teaching
so-called controversial topics. As such, teacher educators and those
who provide support to in-service science teachers are tasked with
finding creative and accessible ways to ensure that the impact made
in those classrooms is accurate and meaningful. While AP Biology
courses are held in high regard for rigor, depth, and breadth of content addressed, it is clear there is still a need to address teacher content knowledge, acceptance, and understanding with respect to
evolution. If the upper echelon of our science teachers struggle with
these same issues, it is clear that our work is far from complete.
Suggestions for Future Study
Research in science teacher preparation tells us there are a variety of
approaches to certification, including alternative certification, master’s-level initiation, and others that can result in a variety of backgrounds as well as levels of training in content and pedagogy, even
at the same level of teaching experience and certification. It is not
clear, at this time, the role those elements may play, if any, in the
range of scores found in measures surrounding evolution acceptance and understanding. Therefore, it would be beneficial in future
studies to explore forms of certification as a variable of interest.
Another direction building on this study would be to explore
whether states with mandatory training and College Board certification for AP Biology teachers have teachers and students with higher
levels of understanding and acceptance than those without. If there
is existing training that can be utilized to close some of these gaps
in acceptance and understanding, then we certainly should be utilizing those resources on a wider basis.
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